Power line part of a bigger picture

Gazette editorial, October 29, 2008

To put it bluntly so we all get it, there’s a lot more than saving the lives of birds riding on council’s ability to navigate its way out of the potential embarrassment caused by lack of action on the Big Lake power line. The way this whole saga has played out poses questions about the process used by administration to ensure council’s directions regarding items to be included in the budget review are followed. It puts under a microscope the motivations of Coun. James Burrows when he called on the province and AltaLink to proceed with a far more costly alternative. And it speaks to the notion that council members cannot be expected to make good, big-picture decisions without all the relevant facts.

The previous council under Paul Chalifoux had instructed administration to slot $350,000 in the 2008 budget to help fund relocation of the 138-kilovolt transmission line as part of a partnership project involving the city, AltaLink and the provincial government. Due to some kind of administrative error, the funds were not included in the 2008 budget and last week council shot down proposals to help fund moving the line and, instead, instructed administration to ask the province and AltaLink to come up with the $6 million to bury the line underground.

The province has already given the city $300,000 and AltaLink has pledged $450,000 for the original plan. Last week, council first refused to include funds in the 2009 budget and then defeated in a 5-2 vote Coun. Carol Watamaniuk’s proposal to take the city’s share from the stabilization reserve. Council then voted in favour of Burrows’ proposal, which would ultimately ask Albertans, either through provincial taxes or higher utility charges, to pay to bury the line, even though that would threaten the integrity of the wetlands and potentially threaten that local ecosystem.

The line, which crosses the Sturgeon River and Big Lake close to the Big Lake Environment Support Society (BLESS) viewing platform, is responsible for bird collisions and interferes with the view of Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park. The plan was to move it about 500 metres to address those problems. However, concerns have now been raised about the proximity of the new location near the soccer and rugby fields, which are already seeing red over the potential disruption of their operations by landfill and sewage lagoon remediation.

First, we’ll dismiss the idea, favoured by the Hole family, to spend up to $8 million to bury the line. The original partnership proposal seemed like a good compromise. Now, however, there’s no plan on the books and council voted Monday to postpone any further discussion until after a Nov. 10 meeting with our local MLAs.

Before council proceeds further down this rocky road, it might be a good idea to find out whether an interpretive centre, proposed by Ducks Unlimited, the Hole family and the provincial government, would be jeopardized by leaving the line where it is. It should be remembered that this city is only one of several municipalities bordering Lois Hole Provincial Park and that in her role as lieutenant governor, Hole was as much a provincial figure as she was a local one.

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Elke Blodgett